The Lions are 'bigger than the All Blacks' says Sir Ian McGeechan

Warren Gatland's side tour Australia this summer

Sir Ian McGeechan reckons the British and Irish Lions are bigger than the All Blacks when it comes to box office and wants to see the game's administrators give them the support they deserve.

McGeechan, coach of the last successful Lions party in South Africa in 1997, fears their chances of success in Australia could be jeopardised by a lack of preparation time.

Both the Aviva Premiership and the RaboDirect Pro12 finals take place on Saturday, May 25 - 24 hours before the Lions depart for their six-week trip, the shortest lead-in time to a Lions tour in their 125-year history.

On top of that, the French Top 14 title decider will be held on June 1, the day the Lions play the first of their 10 matches against the Barbarians in Hong Kong, which will almost certainly rule Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson out of the reckoning when head coach Warren Gatland unveils his squad on Tuesday.

"For the players the Lions is the biggest jersey they can wear," McGeechan said. "All I would like to see is rugby administrators giving them the best fighting chance with an extra week's preparation.

"The first two or three weeks will be critical in Warren Gatland being able to get all the players together and on the same wavelength.

"By week five, you are looking at preparing for a Test match. My philosophy was to give every player the opportunity to show what he can do in a Lions jersey so they have to be playing in those first four weeks.

"As a coach, not only is time a challenge but so actually keeping your powder dry as to what you think the best combinations are and then really going for it that week before the Test match."

Despite the plethora of international matches and increasing focus on the World Cup, McGeechan believes the Lions tour remains as relevant as ever as he prepares to make his eighth trip to the southern hemisphere.

"If you've got a team that go halfway around the world and take 35,000 people with it to support it, then in the year it exists it's the biggest team in world rugby," he said.

"It's bigger than the All Blacks, it's an absolute phenomenon.

"When the game went professional in 1997, the tour was a critical one and winning that series in South Africa established the Lions when there were question marks about whether they could exist in a professional era.

"They've just gone from strength to strength. For Australia, they see it as their biggest rugby event. There's a big impact on the countries where the Lions go."

PA

 

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